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Opinion Let’s hear what John Bolton has to say. But he’s no hero.

Then-national security adviser John Bolton listens as President Trump meets with Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte in the White House on July 18, 2019. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
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In less than two weeks, John Bolton will release “The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir,” the book he wrote about the year and a half he served as the fourth of President Trump’s six national security advisers (so far). And to hear his publisher tell it, the book will finally reveal the rot in the Oval Office.

We ought to hear what Bolton has to say, and though his views on foreign policy are utterly bonkers, we can probably trust that his account of his time in the White House will be reasonably accurate, self-serving though it surely will be.

But nobody should mistake Bolton coming clean now for some kind of bravery.

Here’s an excerpt of his publisher’s press release:

What Bolton saw astonished him: a president for whom getting reelected was the only thing that mattered, even if it meant endangering or weakening the nation. “I am hard-pressed to identify any significant Trump decision during my tenure that wasn’t driven by reelection calculations,” he writes. In fact, he argues that the House committed impeachment malpractice by keeping their prosecution focused narrowly on Ukraine when Trump’s Ukraine-like transgressions existed across the full range of his foreign policy — and Bolton documents exactly what those were, and attempts by him and others in the Administration to raise alarms about them.

“The House committed impeachment malpractice”? You have got to be kidding me.

Let’s review a bit of history. Democrats in the House asked Bolton to testify during the impeachment hearings, and he refused; in a letter responding to the request, his lawyer wrote, “Ambassador Bolton is not willing to appear voluntarily.”

Furthermore, his lawyers said that if Democrats subpoenaed him, they would sue to quash the subpoena, initiating a legal battle that could drag on for months. So the Democrats gave up and moved on, focusing on other administration officials who were willing to answer questions.

Once Trump was impeached by the House and the matter was safely in the hands of the Republican-controlled Senate, Bolton changed his tune. Now, he said, he was willing to testify if he were subpoenaed. But Republicans refused to call any witnesses, preferring to rubber-stamp Trump’s acquittal as quickly as possible.

Throughout that time, if Bolton had wanted to tell what he knew, he could have. He could have testified to the House as many other officials did, the president’s objections notwithstanding. He could have sat for an interview with a journalist. Or five interviews, or 10.

Because Bolton’s disapproval of Trump’s effort to pressure Ukraine into helping discredit Joe Biden was discussed at length in the hearings — as Fiona Hill testified, Bolton said he wanted no part of the “drug deal” being “cooked up” — there was intense interest in what Bolton might have to say. The world was itching to know. And yet he kept silent until now, when the presidential campaign is in progress and his book could be timed for maximum sales.

It’s unclear what other impeachable offenses Bolton believes Trump committed. But if they were so grave, why hasn’t he revealed them until now? His publisher’s materials say he attempted to “raise alarms” about them, but he neither did so publicly nor, as far as we know, communicated them to House Democrats. Perhaps the moment when Trump was in the process of being impeached would have been a good time to do so.

To be clear, it’s good that Bolton wrote this book, even if it might have been better had he revealed what he knew while it could have made more of a difference. The lesson we learn from these kinds of insider accounts is that it’s even worse than we know: Trump is even dumber, even more erratic, even more impulsive and even more corrupt than he appears in public, which is saying something.

We’ll spend years trying to wrap our heads around how America managed to elect such an abominable human being as president, and determine the full scope of the damage he did. Bolton’s book could be a valuable document in that effort.

But no one should have any illusions about Bolton. When Trump fired him (or he resigned, depending on who’s talking), some of us actually celebrated it, because if nothing else, it meant Bolton departed the White House without manipulating Trump into starting the war with Iran he craved for so long. He may not have been one of those pathetic Trump sycophants, but he has terrifying beliefs about the world and he has shown a firm commitment to his own interests. What he says now should be understood in that light.

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